Photo provided by: 
Michael Jensen

Revisiting the Visitation

Walking through a museum earlier this year, this painting of the Visitation stopped me in my tracks. It was the look on Mary’s face: despondent, doubtful, and full of dread. She seems overcome with anxiety. Elizabeth looks at Mary with compassion and embraces her in consolation. This was a revelation—I’d always thought of the Visitation as a happy event.

The painting also contrasts with the Biblical account. In Luke’s Annunciation, Mary accepts God’s call with joy. When she meets Elizabeth, Mary sings the Magnificat, praising God for finding her worthy. There are no allusions to any real-life complications she might face.

But this painting suggests that Mary’s situation was difficult. 

Betrothed but not yet married, she was pregnant. Imagine her trying to explain this to Joseph—her story about the Holy Spirit would have been hard to believe. What did she tell her family and friends? We can imagine her being the object of gossip. Worse yet, according to Mosaic law, she could face a punishment of death by stoning. 

How did Mary navigate these troubles? I suspect she did it with the help of the Holy Spirit. I think part of Luke’s message is that the presence of the Holy Spirit strengthened her with the necessary courage and patience to accomplish what she was asked to do. It also helped that Joseph, her soon-to-be husband, was a saint.

It happens that Pentecost was May 31 this year—also the feast day of the Visitation. On Pentecost, we celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. Perhaps one lesson we can take from Mary’s Visitation is that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we too can face life’s challenges and maybe even inspire others by our example. The Spirit empowers us to do more than we’re normally capable of. This presence of the Spirit is more likely to happen when we are, like Mary, full of grace.

 

The Visitation, 1640-1650 By Antonio de Pereda
Photo provided by: 
Alamy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Visitation, 1640-1650
By Antonio de Pereda

 

Paul Welvang

Parish Finance Committee
The Basilica of Saint Mary

 

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